I ran across an interesting article recently on Bookmarks Magazine website that lists what it views as the 101 best books about the sea. The list combines both fiction and non-fiction, but I was of course more interested in the fiction. Some highlights from their list:
1 The Odyssey (ca. 700 BC) Homer
Great choice. Maybe the best story ever told. Ever.
2 Moby-Dick (1851) Herman Melville
Of course. Full of wonderful characters, this novel provides an exhaustive look into Nantucket whaling.
3 A Conrad Argosy (1942) Joseph Conrad
Basically Conrad's short stories regarding man and the sea. Most are excellent.
4 Master and Commander and the Aubrey-Maturin series (1967-2004) Patrick O'Brian
I just happened across the film version, and liked it quite a bit, though I have never read the book series. I've never really had a high opinion of O'Brian as a writer, but the series tends to get good reviews as a historical fiction.
5 Kon-Tiki (1950) Thor Heyerdahl
This book sat on my father's bookshelf all throughout my childhood. I liked the pictures, but I never go around to reading it. Shame. I'll try to find it again.
6 Two Years Before the Mast (1840) Richard Henry Dana
Dropped out of Harvard to take to sea and round the Horn. That sounds like such a good idea right now!
7 Das Boot: The Boat (1973) Lothar-Günther Buchheim.
An excellent film. The book? I don't know.
10 South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance (1919) Ernest Shackleton
One of the most captivating stories of polar exploration. And it's true.
12 The Old Man and the Sea (1952) Ernest Hemingway
I am not a huge fan of this book, nor of Hemingway, but it's got to be somewhere here, right?
13 The Voyage of the Beagle (1839) Charles Darwin
A surprisingly interestingly read. Darwin pokes and prods the fauna of the Galapagos Islands and describes it all nicely.
14 Robinson Crusoe (1719) Daniel Defoe
I didn't actually read this until after my childhood. Rats. Still a pretty fun read.
15 Lord Jim (1900) Joseph Conrad
I got into a serious Joseph Conrad kick in high school, and bought many paperback versions of his novels and stories--much to the chagrin of my mother, who would see my come back home from the bi-annual Planned Parenthood used book sale with grocery bags full of books. This is still one of my favorite Conrad novels.
17 Treasure Island (1883) Robert Louis Stevenson
Another book I didn't read until after my childhood. Much better than Robinson Crusoe, in my opinion, if only for---argh, matey--Long John Silver.
30 The Principall Navigation, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation(1589-1600) Richard Hakluyt
There was a period when I read almost all of the books relating the exploration of the Nueue World. This is the only one listed on the website, and it is a pretty good one. My favorites, however, are John Smith's writings, as well as the early American writings of William Bradford and John Winthrop.
34 Mutiny on the Bounty (1790) William Bligh
An amazing story. That I haven't read. But I liked the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson a lot.
37 The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970) Gabriel García Márquez
I've actually never heard of this story. Anyone?
57 The Caine Mutiny 1951) Herman Wouk.
Captain Queeg loses his marbles.
72 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) Jules Verne
A great adventure story with engaging characters. I think I read it when I was 10 or 12, and it held me completely spellbound. I just picked up the Disney movie with James Mason as Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas as Ned Land. To be honest, it is probably one of my favorite Disney movies, despite being made in 1954.
88 The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) Edgar Allan Poe
I think I read this once, but I can't remember anything about it. I will try to find a copy here and refresh my memory.
98 The Sea Wolf (1904) Jack London.
Why is this rated so low? I loved this novel. It made me want to drop out of graduate school and go off to sea. (see "Two Years Before the Mast")
100 Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964) Scott O'Dell
This one I did read when I was a child. Maybe it is more about islands than the sea, unlike "The Black Pearl," O'Dell''s other famous young adult novel.
101 Jaws (1974) Peter Benchley.
I love this movie, and supposedly, the book is also quite good. My father took me to see (my 2nd or 3rd movie in a theatre!) this when I was way too young to see it, while we were waiting for my sister to finish with a debate tournament, I think. I remember my mom being ticked off at my dad for giving me shark nightmares for 5 years or so. I was so young that, when I couldn't sleep, my older sister had to take me around the house, proving that there were no sharks under my bed or the sink (!).
There are some notable omissions on the list, maybe due to the book rather than a story per se, like Melville's "Benito Cereno" or Crane's "The Open Boat." So, in that light, I would like to include a few more to their list. Here are some of my nominations for a few new categories. It you disagree, and suggest a better one, please comment! Please feel free to make additions or nominate new categores. The envelope, please....
Best story/novel set on a river:
Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn"
Best story/novel set on a lake:
James Fennimore Cooper, "The Deerslayer"
Best poem of the sea:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Best movie set aboard a boat that has not been adapted from a novel:
"The Imposters," (comedy division)
"To Have and Have Not" (because it isn't really adapted from the novel, just bears a skeleton of the story. Much of it doesn’t take place on a boat at all, but there are so many good lines and it’s got Bogey and Bacall, so I had to give it an award.)
Best drama fetauring the ocean:
Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
Best hurricane story:
Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"
Runner-up: "Key Largo"
Best story/novel about something that washes up on shore:
Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World"